Unlike the old Imperial Japanese Army, the CCF understood the lessons of firepower

Wednesday, March 31st, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachIt was the CCF, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), that changed the most:

By 1953 the clumsy peasant armies, which had pushed masses of men through the valley to the sound of horns and bugles, were no more.

There had been no rotation in the CCF, and the painful lessons of modern ground warfare had been pushed home.


Unlike the old Imperial Japanese Army, the CCF understood the lessons of firepower, and did not repeat their failures.

After 1951, the Chinese soldier again became the phantom he had been in the North Korean hills. His fortifications and fieldworks, built with unstinted labor, almost always surpassed the American. Harassed by ever-present air power, he went completely underground, and he learned to move stealthily, and by night. He became furtive, fast, and skilled at deception.

He could pad noiselessly through the dark and assemble a battalion within U.N. lines before it was seen or heard, and fade away again before daybreak. He became adept at the ambush of American patrols, which could often be heard coming hundreds of yards away, and in the dark, deep valleys, more and more the honors went to him.

He rarely lost prisoners now, a matter of concern to American Intelligence. He proved he could slip small parties into U.N> lines and drag U.S. soldiers screaming from their bunks. While Americans continued to hate the dark, he loved the night as a friend, and made us of it.

He came onto the heavily defended U.N. hills and outposts like a phantom, and often took them within minutes. He could rarely hold them, however, under the quickly massed and superior fires of American artillery, and the grinding attacks launched against him by day, under artillery, air, and armor cover.


  1. Altitude Zero says:

    It would be really interesting to read an actual honest memoir by a CCF veteran of Korea to see how they saw things. Is there such a thing out there?

  2. Kirk says:

    Fehrenbach had no personal experience of fighting the Imperial Japanese Army, and only slight experience with the Original Gangster Chinese and North Korean People’s Army. I’m not certain that he has the actual ability to make these assertions, and I’m further uncertain that the IJA was really all that bad, by comparison. Granted, they did have a habit of doing the last-ditch Hari-Kiri Banzai charge, but that was usually in exigency. Asked to fight in battles like the ones at Iwo Jima, where the commanders chose to fight things out while eschewing the Banzai charge, well… Yeah. They did a lot better. Lots and lots of dead Marines will attest to that. Same with the Army on Okinawa.

    I suspect that H. John Poole could be interesting reading for some. He wrote a bunch of books about the “Eastern Way of War”, including one that outlined a lot of the IJA tactics, Phantom Soldier. Other stuff of Poole’s is worth a read, like The Last Hundred Yards and others. Man’s a bit of a Marine iconoclast, and definitely not politically correct, but his history is solid, well-footnoted, and his thinking is clear enough that I can safely say he’s a better tactician than about 90% of the idiots we have writing the manuals for the Army and Marines.

    I think Fehrenbach is off with a lot of this, in other words.

  3. Wang Wei Lin says:

    I do not have a military background and can’t comment on Fehrenbach. In college my attitude was the usual dumbassery toward the services, but as an old guy now I wish I had served. I bought the book and was astounded at the total cluster of the Korean War. Probably the same as most wars, but fought without a plan, without training or good equipment. It was heartbreaking to read of the slaughter of allied troops, mostly American, because of ineptitude and politics. A preview of Vietnam.

  4. Paul from Canada says:

    Napoleon is famously quoted as saying that the “moral to the physical is as ten to one”.

    The French had a strange obsession in the late 19th and early 20th Century about élan, that will alone could prevail. The Nazi government (and previous German generations, see for example Sebastian Junger), had similar beliefs, Yet no amount of will and the “spirit of the bayonet” could overcome machine-guns and bombs.

    Fanatics can do a lot of damage, but they are not bulletproof.

  5. The White King says:

    Three to one, not ten.

    And you’ve picked up a somewhat superficial impression of it. During Francis I’s Italian campaigns, “la furore francese” was a well-known thing, and Gibbon in Decline and Fall talks about the psychological effect on the Arabs of the seemingly endless waves of invading “Frankish knights”. The fact is that strongly motivated troops will do things, and find ways to do things, that more sedate ones won’t. It doesn’t necessarily mean charging face-first into bullets.

    Verdun was perhaps not elan but definitely something closely related. It couldn’t have been done without that vigor in morale. No American really comprehends what happened there — particularly not the ones joking about “never fired, dropped once”. Americans have been extremely lucky, and lucky enough not to know how lucky they are.

  6. Kirk says:

    Making war is a cultural activity, and you should never be surprised when you encounter cultural differences in the ways people go about doing it.

    The biggest problem for the French was not necessarily the whole “elan” thing, but the fact that their military was hierarchy-bound and completely tied in with their post-Napoleonic fixation with the “grande école” mentality. It’s a symptom of a larger dysfunction in French society, one that we here in America have taken up with equally idiotic enthusiasm.

    What went wrong for the French was the technocratic mentality they’d developed; the essential idea of the credentialed being the only ones you should trust, while discrediting any of those scruffy types who insisted on learning by doing. The inherently self-referential world they built up in their military missed a lot of things, and encouraged a “closed-shop” mentality the same way unions do in the workplace. There’s a reason that most of the French economy is sclerotic and bound up in self-imposed chains, unable to adapt and innovate–And, that reason is closely tied to their worship of the graduates of all those grande école institutions.

    You can see a lot of the same problems in the US, particularly in the military. We copied the French for all too much of our military culture, I’m afraid. Their influence has been insidious, far more than most realize.

    Hierarchy and the worship of “structure” has probably killed more people than anything else in the last few hundred years. You can’t tell the King that his ideas are bad, so you go along with him when he does stupid things, and then you die. It’s the same feudal mentality across all too many of our institutions–The boss-worship is destructive of initiative and pragmatic recognition of reality. Boss says “That’s not true, we’re not going to do it that way…”, and even though it’s undeniable that they’re wrong as wrong could be, they still go ahead with it all. Blindly stumbling along, while most in the ranks know in their guts that “This is stupid…”. But, because they’re in the ranks, and not out in front…? They’re bumbling along to their deaths.

    Hierarchy and the worship of status within that hierarchy will be the death of humanity. It’s that damn simple–We blindly follow the “expert”, and where does that get us, when the anointed ones turn out to be f**king idiots?

    Examples abound–The French experience in WWI and WWII, the current incompetent response by the “system” to our current “pandemic COVID” problem… You name it; look around. Failing businesses almost always have employees that recognize the failure, and could turn things around, but since they’re not in charge due to “hierarchy”, guess what? The idiots that are will fly the enterprise straight into the ground.

    Some day, we’ll all grow up, and the idiots that wind up in charge today will be relegated to roles more in keeping with their actual competency, while the “rest of us” keep a clear eye on what’s really going on and deal with the reality of things as they are, not what we want to see and believe.

  7. Paul from Canada says:

    The White King,

    I think you misunderstood my point. It was not that morale and motivation, will and “elan” is not important, it is that in certain circumstances it is irrelevant.

    The British were extremely impressed with the cohesion and bravery of the Mahdi’s troops at Ormdurman. The Mahdi forces outnumbered the British, and were certainly better motivated,being religious fanatics, yet at the end, Around 12,000 Muslim warriors were killed, 13,000 wounded and 5,000 taken prisoner. Kitchener’s force lost 47 men killed and 382 wounded.

    Reality and technology trumps “will” was my point. It doesn’t matter how fanatically you believe in your cause, or how strong your “will”, if I shoot you in the head, you die.

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